[cw: may contain self-hate triggers for scrupulous or otherwise vulnerable cis people. Please take care of yourself.]
A while back, I was unwillingly eavesdropping on a conversation about how a person “used to be a dude” and speculating about what she looked like “when she was a man.” Annoyed, I complained to a (cis) friend and finished it up with “ugh, we should just ban cis people.”
If you ask TumblrInAction, that makes me a cisphobe and just as bad as transphobes.
I used to work retail. (It turned out I’m too mentally ill for retail work. Oops.) Sometimes, when I finished a shift and someone had yelled at me because I couldn’t take their expired coupon even though if I’d done that I would have lost my job, I would come home and say to my girlfriend “ugh, I hate customers.”
It would probably have been optimally virtuous for me to say “I am frustrated with this one customer that I interacted with, although I recognize that they probably have understandable reasons for behaving the way they did and I am only seeing a tiny slice of their lives and they could be a really nice person otherwise. Also most of the customers I interact with are pleasant individuals and I shouldn’t generalize.”
Frustrated people are very rarely optimally virtuous.
Imagine if someone responded to me saying “customers suck!” with “hey, I’m a customer and I don’t suck! Actually, I’m really nice to everyone who works retail! I even arrange my groceries such that it is easy for people to bag them!” We would not assume that that person is making a reasonable point. Instead, they are being an unsympathetic douche.
In context, my statement does not mean its denotational meaning of “I think everyone who buys anything from a store is terrible”; it means “someone caused me pain! I am upset about this!”
Similarly, if I say “I hate cis people”, I do not actually mean that I hate my family, most of my friends, and every romantic partner I’ve ever had. I mean that I am in pain related to transphobia and this is upsetting me.
Now, let me clarify what I’m not justifying. It is not okay to harm individuals (for instance, by sending them hateful messages). I don’t think it’s right to seriously wish harm on a group of people or to make statements that could easily be interpreted as wishing harm on a group of people. “Ban cis people!” is obviously not a serious policy suggestion; “kill all cis people!” might be. And while it’s okay to say “fuck cis people” when you’re frustrated, I don’t think it’s good to make it part of your identity or create a community where dislike for cis people is socially rewarded– that sets up an environment where bullying is more acceptable.
And this sort of frustration does have negative side effects for some people. I wouldn’t say “ban cis people” on my tumblr for exactly this reason: I have literal-minded friends who would think that this was a serious proposal on my part, cis friends who would worry that they were doing something morally wrong for being cis, and trans friends who would be upset because of the implied insult to their friends, family, and/or past selves. But I wouldn’t blame a different trans person for making a different assessment: that they personally have few enough such friends or enough of a desire for social support on social media that they will make such statements in public.
I think that this is similar to an isolated demand for rigor— an isolated demand for morality. People agree that “bosses suck” is not bullying bosses, that “no one in Florida knows how to drive!” is not an empirical claim that no one in Florida actually knows how to drive, and that “ugh, Tumblr is awful” does not mean that everyone who uses Tumblr is doing something morally wrong. But when it comes to members of marginalized groups, suddenly hurt people have to totally avoid any use of hyperbole. This is ridiculous.